Red-on-Red

The brutal acts of violence directed at civilians and Iraqi police is losing favor among some of the members of the Iraqi insurgency. During Operation Matador, we saw examples of the local tribes, some of whom are sympathetic or even participating in the insurgency, rise up to fight the foreign jihadis after their attempts to impose a Taliban-like rule of law in Western Anbar. Today’s New York Times reports further cases of ‘red-on-red’, AKA the enemy fighting amongst themselves. The Marines gladly watched as insurgents duked it out along the Syrian border.

Late Sunday night, American marines watching the skyline from their second-story perch in an abandoned house here saw a curious thing: in the distance, mortar and gunfire popped, but the volleys did not seem to be aimed at them.

In the dark, one spoke in hushed code words on a radio, and after a minute found the answer. “Red on red,” he said, using a military term for enemy-on-enemy fire.

blockquote>Marines patrolling this desert region near the Syrian border have for months been seeing a strange new trend in the already complex Iraqi insurgency. Insurgents, they say, have been fighting each other in towns along the Euphrates from Husayba, on the border, to Qaim, farther west. The observations offer a new clue in the hidden world of the insurgency and suggest that there may have been, as American commanders suggest, a split between Islamic militants and local rebels.

A United Nations official who served in Iraq last year and who consulted widely with militant groups said in a telephone interview that there has been a split for some time.

“There is a rift,” said the official, who requested anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the talks he had held. “I’m certain that the nationalist Iraqi part of the insurgency is very much fed up with the Jihadists grabbing the headlines and carrying out the sort of violence that they don’t want against innocent civilians.”

Mohammed at Iraq the Model reports there is turmoil among the Mosul insurgency over the methodology used by al Qaeda to intimidate the less radical groups. The recent arrest of Abu Talha may have been precipitated by these divisions.

This conflict originated from the different attitudes of the different groups regarding the issue of targeting civilian “collaborators” (which refers to anyone who works for the government) and it’s more likely that this conflict has lead to the appearance of opportunities for a dialogue between some of these groups and the government and this will possibly put an end to a great deal of the violence going on in that area.

It’s becoming clearer that most of those groups have begun to doubt the benefits of violence and their reluctance has been taking the shape of an internal conflict with the hard-line groups and I think what supports this theory is the message that came from Al-Qaeda to the Sunnis warning them from the consequences of being involved in the political process and I think that Al-Qaeda wouldn’t have threatened its allies in Iraq if Al-Qaeda didn’t feel that the carpet was being pulled from under its feet.

As Mohammed states, the split in the insurgency gives the Coalition room to maneuver, and co-opt the insurgents and tribal groups disgusted by the tactics and ideology of al Qaeda in Iraq. In a critical assessment by the New York Times of US force deployments in Tal Afar, the dislike of the foreign elements of the insurgency becomes clear. Al Qaeda is not winning allies by their ruthless tactics and vicious treatment of the Iraqi tribes. The terrorists must stoop to threatening children to project fear within the city.

On arrival here, commanders found a town that was, for all practical purposes, dead, strangled by the violent insurgents who held it in their thrall. “Anyone not helping the terrorists can’t leave their homes because they will be kidnapped and the terrorists will demand money or weapons or make them join them to kill people,” said Hikmat Ameen al-Lawand, the leader of one of Tal Afar’s 82 tribes, who said most of the city is controlled by insurgents. “If they refuse they will chop their heads off.”

Khasro Goran, the deputy provincial governor in Ninewa, which includes Tal Afar, concurred. “There is no life in Tal Afar,” he said in an interview a week ago. “It is like Mosul a few months ago – a ghost town.” There are more than 500 insurgents in Tal Afar, he said, and they project a level of fear and intimidation across the city far in excess of their numbers. Thoroughfares lined with stores have been deserted, the storefronts covered with blue metal roll-down gates.

In northeast Tal Afar, a young mother now home-schools her six children, after a flier posted at their school warned: “If you love your children, you won’t send them to school here because we will kill them.” A neighbor, Muhammad Ameen, will not let his kids play outside. “Standing out in the open is not a good idea,” he said.

Tribes sympathetic to the new Iraqi government have suffered constant assaults at the hands of insurgents and rival tribes. More than 500 mortars have struck lands belonging to the Al-Sada al-Mousawiyah tribe since September, said the tribe’s leader, Sheik Sayed Abdullah Sayed Wahab. “All of my tribe are prisoners in their own homes,” he says. “We can’t even take our people to the hospital 

Real leadership in Tal Afar lies with the 82 tribal leaders. Angered by the attacks and emboldened by the enlarged American military presence here, some sheiks [tribal leaders] have become outspoken critics of the insurgency. On June 4, at great risk to their own lives, more than 60 attended a security conference at Al Kasik Iraqi Army base near here. To the surprise of Iraqi and American commanders who organized the gathering, many sheiks demanded a Falluja-style military assault to rid Tal Afar of insurgents and complained that American forces do not treat terror suspects roughly enough.

It has become clear that as the terrorists move into remote locations and attempts to establish their vile brand of civil law, the local populations begin to despise and reject them. As the Sunnis who are typically sympathetic or supportive of the insurgency come into close proximity to the extreme jihadis, they witness their true nature.

This is a measure of success that cannot be quantified, such as the numbers of insurgent fighters killed or captured, the number of suicide attacks across the country, Coalition casualties, the number of operational Iraqi battalions or their fighting effectiveness, money spent of reconstruction or the number of completed projects. As Grim eloquently reminds us, “The fact that escalation exists does not prove anything about the success or failure of the mission in Iraq” , and in fact we should expect escalation as the enemy commits more resources to fight the progress of the Coalition.

The Christian Science Monitor looks at the US Strategy in Iraq and asks if it is working. In the assessment, Professor Juan Cole is quoted as saying the insurgency is gaining ground in the Sunni Triangle and Anbar, and not losing it:

“It’s indisputable that the insurgents are enormously more popular among the Sunni Arab community today than they were two years ago,” says Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Michigan. “Every time you hear a suicide bomb has gone off … I guarantee you that means there are 3,000 Iraqis who saw the preparations and decided that this would be a good thing.”

How would Professor Cole explain red-on-red fighting in Western Iraq, or the pleas for cooperation from local tribes? These are facts Professor Cole conveniently ignores as they do not fit into his preconceived notion that the US has lost the war and it is time for the UN to ride to the rescue.

Two indicators that Professor Cole is wrong are the attitudes of the Syrians and the Kofi Annan. Syria continues to tout its efforts to bolster security along its borders. Kofi Annan publishes a column in the Washington Post touting the political progress in Iraq and the strides made to reach consensus on the Iraqi Constitution, which Iraq the Model reports as being 80% completed.

Neither Syria (the headwaters of the ratline) or Kofi Annan (Mr. Illegal) have been sympathetic to American efforts in Iraq, and their attempts to curry favor with the US speak volumes on their assessment of the situation. And this comes before Coalition forces and the Iraqi Army commits the resources to fully engage and occupy the towns and cities of Anbar.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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